ViolaChi-Yuan Chen


Karen and Warren Kessler Chair

Taiwanese violist Chi-Yuan Chen holds the Karen and Warren Kessler Chair as Principal Viola of San Diego Symphony, a position he recently auditioned for and won in 2014 after joining the Orchestra in 2006. Top-prize winner of both the 2000 Fischoff Chamber Music Competition and the 2004 International Paris Viola Competition Ville d’Avray, Mr. Chen has already established himself as one of the leading violists in his generation. In 1999 he made his American concerto debut at Boston’s Jordan Hall performing William Walton’s Viola Concerto. Because of his outstanding musicianship and contribution, Mr. Chen received the Henri Kohn award from the Tanglewood Music Center in 2000. 

Mr. Chen began violin study at the age of six and made his public debut in Taiwan at age ten. The following year he switched to viola and shortly thereafter made his string quartet debut in Hong Kong at the City Cultural Center. As a concert violist, Mr. Chen toured internationally, performing at the White House in Washington, D.C., Suntory Hall in Tokyo, National Concert Hall in Taipei, City Hall in Hong Kong, Carnegie Hall in New York, Disney Hall and Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles, Victoria Hall in Geneva and the National Centre of Performing Arts in Beijing, to name a few. 

Prior to his arrival in the United States in 1998, Mr. Chen performed as principal violist with a number of orchestras in Taiwan including the Taipei Metropolitan Symphony, Taiwan String Orchestra, the Taipei Opera Symphony Orchestra and the Taipei Century Orchestra, among others. As a soloist, Mr. Chen performed concerti with the National Symphony Orchestra of Taiwan, the Taipei Civic Symphony Orchestra and the National Defense Symphony Orchestra. 

As a guest artist, Mr. Chen has performed with numerous ensembles, including the Boston Chamber Music Society, Metamorphosen Chamber Orchestra and the Gardner Museum Chamber Ensemble in Boston where he was the principal violist from 1999-2002. An advocate of chamber music, Mr. Chen has performed with internationally renowned artists such as Colin Carr, Elliott Carter, John Corigliano, Toshio Hosokawa, Ani and Ida Kavafian, Yo-Yo Ma, William Preucil, George Perle and Paula Robison, as well as members of the American, Arditti, Brentano, Cleveland, Emerson, Guarneri, Mendelssohn and Miami string quartets. 

A founding member of the Great Wall String Quartet (resident ensemble of Beijing’s Great Wall International Summer Academy), Mr. Chen has performed regularly and toured extensively in Asian countries, including China, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Japan, Korea, Macau and Taiwan. As the only string quartet invited by the United Nations, the Great Wall String Quartet participated in a documentary film for the 2009 World’s Heritage Festival, a DVD recording of which has been added to the UN’s library archive. The quartet recently (2012) released their debut album titled The Great Wall. In 2013 the album was awarded “Best Performance in Classical Music” at the 29th Golden Melody Award in Taiwan. 

Besides his performing career, Mr. Chen is a dedicated educator for the next generation. As a guest lecturer of the University of Southern California and National Taiwan University of Arts, his international teaching appearances in variable settings such as master-classes, chamber music and concerto performances have been highly acclaimed. Over the years Mr. Chen has successfully conducted more than 50 master-classes in universities and music conservatories in Europe, Asia and North America. In 2009 Mr. Chen was invited to be Macau Youth Symphony’s Oversea Honorary Advisor. Also, his achievements and generous contributions to music education have been highly recognized by the governments of Macau and Hong Kong. 

Chi-Yuan Chen holds a Doctoral degree from State University of New York at Stony Brook and both a Bachelor’s and a Master’s degree from the New England Conservatory in Boston, where he received the highest distinction in performance on both degrees. His teachers include Ben Lin, James Dunham, Martha Katz, Katherine Murdock and Nobuko Imai. Mr. Chen currently resides in San Diego where he is also on the studio artist faculty of San Diego State University. 


Q: How did you choose your instrument? 

A: Both of my parents are musicians. I started violin when I was six after a year of piano lessons. I guess I did not enjoy practicing piano as I should have... and the husband of my piano teacher was the concertmaster of Taipei Symphony Orchestra at that time. That was how I started – as a violinist. I switched to viola when I was 11 because of a change of my private teacher, and that was exactly when I started to fall in love with the instrument. 

Q: What is your favorite travel destination? 

A: Anywhere with great food and wonderful companion.... 

Q: What are some favorite composers and/or musical periods? 

A: It varies by time... Currently my favorite composers are György Ligeti, Luciano Berio and, of course, J. S. Bach. 

Q: What is your choice for dining in San Diego? 

A: Qing Liang's backyard...GREAT spicy stir-fry crabs! 

Q: Where might you find me on a Saturday night if the Symphony is not performing? 

A: Somewhere with my family. 

Q: The non-musical accomplishment you are most proud of is…?

A: Being a semifinalist of a billiard competition in Taiwan.